Monday, November 29, 2004

Reportedly According to Apparently Informed Sources

November 27, 2004

Reportedly According to Apparently Informed Sources

Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK — As of early Friday evening, at least 60 viewers and readers had forwarded me cut-and-pastes of— or links to— an amazingly intricate conspiracy theory on-line piece that intertwines the Presidential election, Homeland Security, the FBI, $29,000,000 in payoffs, Enron, and the Saudi Royal Family— seemingly everybody except the Visiting Nurse Association of Skaneateles, New York.

Each e-mail has come with the same question: could this possibly be true?

To summarize the story, Wayne Madsen, a former naval officer and now self-styled investigative journalist, has written that “according to informed sources in Washington and Houston,” computer experts were promised phenomenal amounts of cash, laundered via Saudi Arabia and the secret accounts of those who looted Enron, to pose as FBI and Homeland Security agents, infiltrate polling places around the country, and hack into electronic voting systems.

After Iran-Contra, nobody can discount the theoretical possibility of any international conspiracy to commit… well, to commit anything. But in the absence of verifiable facts, and in the middle of a sea of unidentified sources and usage of the words “reportedly” and “apparently,” it is often instructive to see if the writer, and the mere journalistic structure of what he’s written, can even maintain what artists like to call “verisimilitude” - the mere appearance of truth.

And as a work of journalism, the Madsen piece has several glaring problems that make even a doubter like myself cringe.

Mr. Madsen’s only readily recognizable germ of truth comes in the third paragraph of his piece: “There have been media reports from around the country concerning the locking down of precincts while votes were being tallied.” He then retells the still inexplicable walling off of the Administration Building in Warren County, Ohio, on the night of the election, on the pretext of a terror warning from the FBI that the FBI has since declared it never made.

But that has been the only such report of a “lock down.”

Madsen does not offer, nor has the media or even the Internet reported, any other examples - even unverified ones.

The Palm Beach Post reported last month that 73 schools which doubled as polling places in Palm Beach County, Florida, were to belocked down during voting— locked down in the sense that kids were to be escorted by teachers from class to class, and even to the bathroom. Additionally, the Associated Press and several other news organizations reported that Florida’s State Election Headquarters in Tallahassee was evacuated on the morning of Monday, November 1st, due to a suspicious package, and workers not permitted to return— locked out— until just before noon.

But short of those two examples— neither of which Mr. Madsen cites— his “media reports from around the country concerning the locking down of precincts while votes were being tallied,” are all the same: about Warren County. Journalistically, this is the equivalent of a news account of the unfortunate man who’s been hit by lightning six times, being inflated into “media reports from around the country concerning people being hit by lightning six times each.”

If there are other lockdown cases, Mr. Madsen should verify and report them.

It is also useful in these situations to look at an author’s other work. On October 20th, in what to the best of my knowledge was Mr. Madsen’s previous jaw-dropper, he wrote “Bush pre-election strike on Iran ‘imminent.’” This time the piece began: “According to White House and Washington Beltway insiders…”

Mr. Madsen then told of a blood-curdling plan for the U.S. to strike top Iranian Islamic leaders, a series of mosques, nuclear research sites, and at least one nuclear reactor - all of it to be accomplished before November 2, thus making the President “assured of a landslide win against Kerry.”

Now, I don’t claim to know everything in the news, but if we had bombed Teheran late last month, I think somebody would have mentioned it to me.

Returning to the current article, Mr. Madsen also strains logic in one very important area. It is his claim that “the leak about the money and the rigged election apparently came from technicians who were promised to be paid a certain amount for their work but the Bush campaign interlocutors reneged and some of the technicians are revealing the nature of the vote rigging program.”

There’s a discouraging journalistic fact here. Mr. Madsen has distanced himself further from the purported original source of the information (his “informed sources” “reportedly” got this from the “technicians”), to the point where this information is now, at best, third-hand.

And there is a hole in the center of this saga big enough to sink the plot of a Bruce Willis movie — the means by which the information came to see the light of day.

If untold numbers of operatives really were dispatched to polling places around the country to enact the most nefarious political plot in this country’s history, why would the ring-leaders reveal to any of them any of the following:

* The total amount spent on the plan (Madsen drops the $29 million dollar figure in the first sentence)?
* The primary source of the carefully laundered cash (Madsen sites “Five Star Trust”)?
* The sources of “other money used to fund the election rigging” (Madsen lists “siphoned Enron money stored away in accounts in the Cook Islands”)?

Most importantly, having told their minions all of this damning information, having sent them out on an evil mission that if exposed could overturn an election and require the building of extra prisons just to hold all those who would be convicted in such an overarching scheme, why on earth would they try toget away with not paying them?

None of this is written to downplay the disturbing nature of the Warren County incident. Nor is it posited even to dismiss the many who see in the various failures of electronic voting around the country nearly four weeks ago not just incompetence, but malfeasance. Hell, if a shred of Mr. Madsen’s story is true, I’ll pay his expenses when he goes to pick up his Pulitzer Prize.

But in a time when serious investigations of what did or didn’t happen on November 2nd are vital to the sanctity of our voting process, reporting— in the mainstream media and on the Internet alike— has to be solid and reasoned.

I’d have to put Mr. Madsen’s story in the same category as the on-line report that I had been fired by MSNBC on November 12th for attempting to cover voting irregularities.

I might add as an additional caution that I just saw that report posted anew on another Website. And apparently I’m still standing.

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